Plants could hold the key to better bone implants 2019-04-26T10:30:28+01:00

Repairing damaged bones with plants

Scientists have developed a new substance which they hope could be used to repair damaged bones – and it’s made from plants.

The researchers created a foam-like substance from cellulose that they hope could be injected into the body to provide a basis for bone regrowth. They treated tiny crystals derived from cellulose – the main component of plant cell walls – so that they could link up to form a strong, but lightweight, sponge that could compress or expand as needed to fill a bone cavity. This type of substance is known as an aerogel – a solid material of extremely low density, produced by removing the liquid from a gel (a solid suspended in a liquid).

The team – from the University of British Columbia and McMaster University in Canada, and the Medical University of Lublin in Poland – published their research last month in the international peer-reviewed biomaterials journal Acta Biomaterialia. Study co-author Daniel Osorio, a PhD student in chemical engineering at McMaster University, explained: “Most bone grafts or implants are made of hard, brittle ceramic that doesn’t always conform to the shape of the hole.

“Those gaps can lead to poor growth of the bone and implant failure. We created this as a more effective alternative to these synthetic materials.” In an article for peer-reviewed scientific publisher Frontiers, scientists from the University of Ottawa and the University of Western Australia noted: “Cellulose is a promising platform for biomaterial development and tissue engineering.” 

The team tested the implants on adult male rats. One group of rats received the implants in their skulls, the second group did not. In the rats who received the implants, around 33 percent more bone growth had occurred after three weeks, and 50 percent after 12 weeks, compared to the control group.

Hydroxyapatite – an essential component of bones, which gives them their rigidity – was able to grow on the aerogels when they were submerged for 14 days in a solution designed to simulate body fluid.

Study co-author Emily Cranston, professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University of British Columbia, said that the implant should break down into non-toxic components in the body as the bone starts to heal. The implant doesn’t replace bones, it just facilitates their regrowth.

A third co-author and the supervisor of the study, Kathryn Grandfield, a professor of materials science and engineering and biomedical engineering at McMaster University, added: “We can see this being used for a number of applications including dental implants and spinal and joint replacement surgeries. This summer, we will study the mechanisms between the bone and implant that lead to bone growth. We’ll also look at how the implant degrades. After that, more biological testing will be required before it is ready for clinical trials.”

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